Move over celery. This year, apples take over the top spot on the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) "Dirty Dozen" list as the most pesticide-laden produce. Apples jumped three spots from last year's list and for good reason: According to the USDA, pesticides appeared on 98 percent of the more than 700 apple samples tested.

ApplesThe EWG yesterday released its seventh edition of the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, a resource that ranks pesticide contamination for about 50 popular fruits and vegetables and recommends which produce is best to buy organic. Apples typically have occupied the top three spots on the Dirty Dozen list.

"Apples grown conventionally often have multiple pesticide residues due to the use of pesticides during the growing phase as well as post harvest, when apples are sprayed with another fungicide that allows them to stay in cold storage facilities for months," said Sara Sciammacco, press secretary for EWG. "Only five pesticides that were detected on apples were unapproved in 2009," she added, noting the unapproved percentage would be just under 5 percent.

Dirty Dozen (highest in pesticides)

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Imported nectarines
  7. Imported grapes
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Domestic blueberries
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale/collard greens


Unapproved or approved, pesticide use isn't just concerning for consumers. "In the organic marketplace everybody is concerned about pesticide exposure," said Addie Pobst, import coordinator and food safety officer for organic produce distributor CF Fresh. "Organic is not a residue-free claim because the sad fact is our world is filled with chemicals and we cannot guarantee that there will not be a particular residue on a particular fruit. What we can guarantee is that we do not apply any of these synthetic ingredients." Pobst thinks that the updated Dirty Dozen may prompt consumers to start buying organic apples over conventional.

EWG analysts examine testing data by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration from 2000 to 2009 to come up with the latest Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. The USDA began testing produce in the '90s and currently tests about 20 different foods each year. EWG ranks produce by six equal factors, and produce is usually washed and peeled before testing.